American comedian and emissary extraordinaire Conan O’Brien is at it again. After trips to Cuba and Armenia, the late-night host has now brought his brand of humorous diplomacy to one of the world’s most precarious locales—the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
“This is probably not the time or the place for my quips,” O’Brien said, after pointing out that a South Korean soldier was wearing sunglasses indoors.
In February, O’Brien toured South Korea, where he visited a gaming cafe and starred in his own K-Pop music video, before stopping by the North Korean border. A special episode chronicling his adventures in the country, called Conan in Korea (full video), aired all this on April 9.
O’Brien traveled alongside Korean-American actor and star of The Walking Dead, Steven Yeun, who also functioned as the comedian’s guest for the talk show, which was staged inside the Joint Security Area (JSA) of the DMZ.
“Why does this historically significant building that links these two separated countries look so much like the business center of a Ramada Inn?” O’Brien joked. Indeed, the JSA, established in 1953 following the ceasefire in the Korean War, has been the site of hundreds of violent encounters, according to the US Army, and is something of a popular tourist destination. But it mainly consists of a series of rather nondescript conference rooms, save for their bright-blue color.
O’Brien did briefly put aside the jokes to reflect on the symbolism of his and Yeun’s presence on North Korean soil. “We’ve been obviously kidding around a little bit, but this is a serious thing,” he said. “The idea that you and I could be in North Korea, talking and communicating freely, seems like kind of a cool message.”
After the thaw in US-Cuba relations last year, O’Brien became the first American personality to film in Cuba since the embargo was implemented in 1962. The comedian was also the first American to broadcast a show from Armenia.
Though some might see O’Brien’s strategy of comedy-as-diplomacy as a bit condescending, he seems awfully sincere in his attempt to bring people together through the universality of humor. As he told USA Today after he went to Cuba in 2015, “I don’t want this to be political. A lot of my remotes are me as a fish out of water, the jokes are usually on me, I want to go as a comedian making fun of myself and make Cuban people laugh. In that regard, I think I was successful.”